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Published On: lör, Dec 5th, 2015

An Alliance of Hypocrisy

Goldsmiths, University of London, is a school known for its strong tradition of critical theory, media studies and cultural studies. Several big names of feminism are found in the teaching and research staff, among them Sara Ahmed and Beverly Skeggs. The last few days, however, the school has been getting attention because of a controversial lecture about ISIS, freedom of expression and apostasy. This was held November 30th.

Rainbow over Goldsmiths, University of London (photo: Alex Blandford).

Rainbow over Goldsmiths, University of London (photo: Alex Blandford).

I would like to start a bit earlier though, namely in February of this year. Then, Goldsmiths Islamic Society invited the preacher Hamza Andreas Tzortzis to talk on the topic “Why Islam?” Tzortzis have at several other occasions participated in events organised by the society, and there has never been any large or formal protests, either from Goldsmiths Feminist Society or their LGBTQ+ society. Should there have been protests? Perhaps.

Tzortzis has taken part in several controversial events. For example, he and the organisation he represents, the Islamic Education and Research Academy, are banned from the University College London. This after it was revealed that they, at a debate in which they participated on campus, had made sure the audience was segregated along gender lines, so that women and men would not sit next to each other. This was done despite warnings from the university that they would cancel the event if attempts were made to segregate.

Tzortzis has compared homosexuality to cannibalism and paedophilia, and according to the human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, Tzortzis has also spoken in favour of the criminalisation of homosexuality. So, should it have been protested? Perhaps. It would not have surprised me if there were protests, and had Tzortzis been invited to Stockholm University, I would have organised protests myself. That is not to say that a protest is a demand of disinvitation.

The invitation came from a student society, not the university itself. That could be the reason no one filed a formal complaint. The Islamic Society invites a guest to speak in front of them, and perhaps others who are interested. If certain students are uncomfortable with the message of Tzortzis, they do not have to participate. If some students oppose the views and actions of Tzortzis, they can protest outside the venue. But there is not reason to file a formal complaint, and there are no grounds to demand the cancellation of the event.

Maryam Namazie before her lecture in the University of Iceland in september 2007 (photo: Matti Á).

Maryam Namazie before a lecture at the University of Iceland in september 2007 (photo: Matti Á).

Safe spaces, for whom?

There was no formal complaint made when the Goldsmiths Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH) invited Maryam Namazie either. This Iranian-British feminist, human rights campaigner, and so-called ex-Muslim, were to talk about apostasy and freedom of expression within Islam in this “age of ISIS.” The night before the lecture, however, the president of ASH received an email from the president of the Islamic Society. In this email, Namazie’s invitation was described as a threat to the “safe space” of the society members, and they asked for the event to be cancelled. Namazie was described as a “known islamophobe” and the president warned that they would take the matter to the student union if the event was not cancelled.

Considering that no formal complaint was made, this last-minute email could be seen as an attempt to intimidate the humanist society into cancelling. That did not happen; the event was carried on as planned. Or at least as planned as is possible when the Islamic Society members did everything they could to interrupt Namazie’s talk. It started off seemingly harmless. A few guys walk back and forth in front of Namazie, as if they cannot find a place to sit down, even though there are many free seats. Namazie keeps her calm and just says “here are some chairs, I can wait until you’ve sat down.”

After a while, they sit down, but soon start to whistle in order to interrupt the talk. Namazie, still calm, ask them to be quiet. They start talking over her, and she repeatedly states that they will have to be quiet or leave the room. One of the men claims they have the right to be there, while another start repeating that she intimidates him, as if she is threatening them. It becomes more and more obvious that they have carefully planned how to interrupt the talk, while getting on camera that Namazie raises her voice or even yells at them, while they claim that they are being threatened. It would not look good, and such a video could be used against Namazie and against the society that invited her. Namazie, however, seems to see through the plan, and constantly keeps her calm in a remarkable display of patience.

Continued hostile, unsafe atmosphere

Namazie continues her talk, but with a slightly raised voice, in order to be heard while one audience member continues to loudly claim he is being threatened. Another man suddenly stands up in front of Namazie, and angrily complains that an organiser told him to “shut up.” A female audience member quickly walks up to him and tells him to stop. He tells her to sit down, but she refuses until he himself sit back down. Chaos erupts.

Security staff from the university shows up and after a while it settles down for a bit, but most of the provocateurs stay in the lecture hall and continues to talk. Namazie then takes her notes, move a bit to the side and continue talking to those who are actually there to listen.

This continues for a while, and at one point one of the men gets up and turns off the projector. It is well worth noting that all the tumult was created only by a handful of male students, and that there were several Muslim women and other participants who showed respect towards Namazie and he right to express her ideas.

It is really a shame that there is such a climate at the universities, that a few provocateurs can completely run over a woman with a dissenting view, claim that they are the ones being threatened, intimidated and marginalised, while at the same time not be held accountable for their alienation of other groups of students, such as gay men.

Screenshot from the recorded talk. To the left is one of the provocateurs, behind him is Maryam Namazie.

Screenshot from the recorded talk. To the left is one of the provocateurs, behind him is Maryam Namazie.

Selective criticism and unexpected support

The real tragedy, however, happened after the talk. The Goldsmiths Feminist Society made a statement about the events, and proclaimed their “solidarity” with the Islamic Society. The Feminist Society at the university, as such, stands behind men’s active, and very aggressive, silencing of one woman. A woman who is criticizing what she views as misogyny, gets silenced by fundamentalist men who do not believe in her right to an opinion, and a supposedly feminist society stands in solidarity with the fundamentalists.

As if that was not enough, the Goldsmiths LGBTQ+ Society also made a statement in support of the Islamic Society. The same society who regularly invites a man who wants to ban homosexuality, who claims that homosexuality is connected to paedophilia.

To now claim that the invitation of Maryam Namazie infringes on the “safe space” of Muslims, and that she should never have been invited, is insanity. It is hypocrisy in relation to the problem-free invitation of Hamza Tzortzis. Furthermore, the statement of the feminists and the queers is nothing but a betrayal of the values such societies should defend.

Freedom of expression, only for some

That a feminist society thinks it is right that a woman should be banned from expressing her opinion – opinions based on experience of religious oppression against her as a woman – is complete lunacy. There is also a deep irony in the fact that the topic of the talk was freedom of expression within Islam. That the Islamic Society tried to stop this talk is in this way rather funny, while still deeply sad.

That the LGBTQ+ Society will not protest when someone demands that their right to life and liberty should be taken away, but then protests when someone actually defends their rights, it is as if I have gone Through the Looking-Glass. It is as if Tweedledum and Tweedledee suddenly got so frightened by the big black crow (Namazie) that they completely forgot of their quarrel.

This is about an alliance of hypocrisy, between queers, feminists, and islamists. An alliance claiming to work for “safe spaces,” but only applied to a select few. Considering the tactics used by the men during the talk, it could be believed that this alliance is controlled with a mafia-like intimidation. Critique is not allowed. What a freedom of expression, and what a safe space!

The atheist society has said that they will report the events to the student union. The Islamic Society, on the other hand, claims that their members were threatened and said that they will take it to the police. The video that spread like wildfire, however, shows exactly who is threatening who. It shows who are creating unsafe spaces and contributes to a climate of hatred. And it is not Maryam Namazie.

About the Author

- Co-founder and writer for the MENA Magazine, chairperson for the Swedish MENA-Association, and former Director of Studies for Middle Eastern Studies at Stockholm University. MPhil candidate at the University of Cambridge. Mostly writes about Arab media, gender, politics and popular culture.

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